My thoughts on bicycle service prices, in general. Are they too steep, or to cheap (it rhymes 🙂 )? How much should a bicycle service cost?
As a practical, real life example, I’ll take a front derailleur tuning I did a few days ago. A man came with a problem – said his front shifter (friction one) is moving with great difficulty when shifting to the largest chainring, and it tends to move back on its own when riding. And I fixed it – “front derailleur tuning”. What did that mean, what work was actually done?
- Taking a phone call and arranging a term for the service.
- Looking over the bicycle and agreeing on what should be fixed and quoting the price.
- In order to get this particular bicycle held securely in a work stand, I had to extend the seatpost (or use a spare one from the shop as a temporary replacement).
- Pulling out a seatpost requires marking the original insertion depth with some tape, so that it can be put back at the same height later.
- As I had started pulling the seatpost out, I noticed it was a bit rusty and stuck, so used the opportunity to put some mounting paste on it, to prevent it from seizing in the future.
- The problem with the shifter was present because the shifter cable was mounted at the wrong side of the front derailleur pinch bolt, not allowing for good leverage, which resulted in difficult pull, and in derailleur’s spring exerting enough force to pull the shifter lever back as one rides.
- After pinching the cable from the proper side of the pinch bolt, I needed to fine-tune its tension using the adjustment barrel. And put a new cable end cap, so it doesn’t fray, since there was none (also needed to cut off the frayed end, shortening the cable a bit).
- I lubricated derailleur pivots with some oil.
- Finishing it with a test ride – which is necessary, no matter how “small and simple” a service is, since it is a good way to make sure nothing is omitted. But, before that, I had to lubricate the chain (it was completely dry) and pump up the tyres (that were vastly under-inflated).
- One more phone call to arrange the bicycle pick-up.
If anyone would ask what was done? “He tuned my front derailleur”.
Depending on the person, this might be followed by: “How much do they charge for that? It’s a 5 minute job, there’s a tutorial on YouTube…”
Of course, bicycle mechanics isn’t rocket science – most people can service their bicycles themselves if they devote enough time and effort… and get the right tools. This website, and BikeGremlin YouTube channel are devoted to that. Yet, if someone else does it for you, it’s normal for them to charge for their time.
In addition to the time spent, shops also need to cover all the rents, taxes, insurances, and with new technology, tools are getting more and more “exotic” (non-standard) and expensive, especially for the “newer stuff”.
Finally, in my experience, most prices are calculated with average time taken into the account. Some jobs get done surprisingly quickly, while a stuck bolt can make a routine 5 minute task into a hour long chore, with no way to reasonably charge for it. I think that most mechanics would be happy to charge an agreed upon rate by the hour, no matter how short, or long the work takes. But that would be unjust towards the customers, since they would have no idea how much it would cost in the end.
The point of this story is that bicycle mechanics job is not among the highly paid ones. Regardless of how much a repair costs, a mechanic most probably doesn’t charge (earn) more than you do per hour of work. The main difference between the good and the bad mechanics is whether they do the work properly, or it has to be done again. That at least is my opinion and experience.
I like to joke that a bicycle mechanic is a guy who takes a toolbox with 5.000$ worth of tools, sits in a car worth 500$, in order to make 50$. 🙂
For those interested, in a separate post I wrote in a bit more detail about the job of a bicycle mechanic.